The LEDE Class of 2011 spent the summer familiarizing themselves with different newspaper departments and elements of leadership in the Delivering the News project. The newsroom leadership program allowed participants to ride along on delivery routes, make sales calls with reps, discuss budgets, make a presentation to a community group, manage a newsroom project and discuss hiring practices. Here's what they found most valuable.
Lynn Brennan, Hornell (N.Y.) Evening News
In the last four months it has been interesting to have the opportunity to dive in and learn about people’s jobs in different departments in the building. It was interesting to see how the departments work together to put out a quality daily newspaper. Of the six areas I studied, I learned the most about the circulation department. Coming into the project I had no clue what it took to get the newspaper delivered every day. It was good to sit down with our circulation manager and understand why problems come up when delivering the paper and what is done to fix them.
Participating in these projects was very useful, and I believe anyone in a management or leadership role at a newspaper would benefit by taking part in it. Often in this business we get so focused on everything we need to do to get our own part of the paper done, we forget about the other parts of the publication. If more of us understood the details of what it takes to make every department run smoothly, we would be more understanding of why things are done the way they are. Also, it would be good to open the lines of communication to help troubleshoot problems in other departments.
Heather Dodds, Siskiyou Daily News, Yreka, Calif.
I really enjoyed the community outreach project. It came at a perfect time for me - right after I was made managing editor - so I was able to inform the community about changes I was planning to make and ask them if they had suggestions for where we could improve.
Our readers have really great ideas. One requested that we publish a rundown of how our legislative leaders vote each week. Great idea. Another said they would love to see weekly editorials on the op-ed page. Another great idea, and something we're working on. Another complained that our coverage had been lacking over the previous month, and I was able to explain that we had a reporter quit and were doing the best we could with just one reporter while we looked for a replacement. I think readers often have feelings toward "the paper" as a whole and don't stop and think about the fact that "the paper" that they can be so quick to criticize is made up of their fellow community members who are doing the best they can. Several people came up to me and thanked me for listening, and said it was the first time they had gotten to give their ideas and feedback straight to the editor. It's something I plan to do more often.
Erik Gable, Adrian (Mich.) Daily Telegram
While on calls with a sales representative, I was struck by the number of steps that go into each sale -- from dropping off the materials and having a quick preliminary chat with the customer to eventually closing the sale -- and by all the things that go into maintaining relationships with regular customers. I also discovered that sales representatives spend a lot of time getting to know the ins and outs of their clients' businesses -- and that a reporter who's there for part of the process can leave with some good story ideas.
David Good, Chicago Suburban, Ill.
Implementing change in the newsroom was the project that provided the most practical, hands-on experience for me. Our group of weekly community newspapers and daily websites in Chicago's suburbs has made great strides in recent years, but we still had no consistent plan for engaging readers through social media. After researching best practices and brainstorming with my staff and colleagues, I developed guidelines that my sports reporters now follow when posting to our papers' many Facebook pages.
Not only was the end result meaningful, but the process was valuable. The project created an immediate opportunity to focus on strategies laid out in the first LEDE training session in April. For example, I made sure to establish a clear goal at the beginning and then determined how to get there; and I gave the reporters ownership of the project by seeking their feedback on best practices. At the same time, the project showed me how one simple, inaccurate assumption I made created great confusion among my reporters. While the misunderstanding was easily cleared up, the lesson I learned about the challenges of leading change was extremely important.
Eric Hahn, Chicago Suburban, Ill.
I learned a lot by seeing the financial side of the business. I’ve had loads of experience in editorial, but I gained years of insight just by riding along with ad reps, meeting with the advertising director and going over the budget with the publisher. For example, much like a reporter immerses himself in a town, a good local ad rep works a beat, makes contacts and gathers information. Ultimately, seeing the other side reinforced the singular mission of a publication. Whether you sell ads, deliver papers or report stories, you want a product that creates a demand by informing, entertaining and engaging your community of readers.
William McGuinness, Herald News, Fall River, Mass.
LEDE's delivering the news project offered an opportunity to step outside my position to consider our news operation more completely and from different perspectives. We wrote responses to prompts on a document shared among us; so it was valuable to see that at newspapers throughout the company and country, employees face problems in common with one another, attacking them locally and individually.
I work in product development and operations for our web products, and my position is one that was created a year ago. Visiting with employees across departments, a common conversation included many questions about what I do and where I think the industry is going. Companies often look at information with competing conclusions when planning for how the market and our customers will change. In my experience, though, each department was looking to technology and the web as a way to make their jobs easier and to respond to customers' and readers' needs. Not everyone was sold, but most were at least curious and willing to experiment, from B2B leads generated though social networks like LinkedIn or mobile reporting powered by their own phones.
Adam McHugh, Rockford (Ill.) Register Star
What I found most valuable about the Delivering the News project was the perspective it gave me about other departments of the organization.
From advertising to finance to production to circulation, it's a complex web with opportunities and pitfalls at every level.
I believe this perspective will give me the ability to install the realities of these departments into projects we do in the newsroom.
It also confirmed my belief in the power of communication. If all departments of the organization communicate, good things should happen.
Andrew Nash, Pittsburg (Kan.) Morning Sun
One of the most important things I have realized is that the newsroom is not alone. Sometimes it's easy to think of ourselves as in our own little world, carefully going about our own business and largely unaffected by the other departments, but that's not true. We are just one leg of the body that is a newspaper. It's dangerous to think otherwise, because by working together and crossing those imaginary boundaries of departmental divisions, we can all improve.
The other major thing I've learned is that by being open and honest with other people, and by expecting the same, we have the chance to make things better. We instituted new peer reviews over the summer, and although they could have easily gone very poorly, I believe that by making my intentions clear at the beginning and by listening to what people had to say, we were able to produce reviews that not only reflected how the newsroom sees each other, but also how we can work better together.